Uncertified Helipad Landing

Michel Masson • 10 November 2021
in community Rotorcraft
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Former world rally champion and helicopter pilot Ari Vatanen needs to land on an uncertified private helipad with a friend. Statistics tell us that many accidents happen during this type of landing, so how can he perform the best preparation and recce to land safely at destination? Pilots need proper flight preparation and in-flight decision-making to land on an uncertified helipad. They should use a Threat and Error Management (TEM) strategy to anticipate and resolve issues and have a Plan B (and C). That includes making a go around or diverting to an alternate airfield when experiencing difficulties, especially during approach and landing. Learn more about uncertified helipad landing with Ari and Mathieu in this new EASA Together4Safety video.

Note: In certain countries, off-airfield landings are either forbidden or subject to special conditions: know and comply with your national rules!

 

Ari the pilot intends to fly with a friend in a helicopter to a conference site located countryside for a presentation he will give on safety. This involves landing on the site’s uncertified helipad.

Flight preparation

Ari asks his instructor how he can improve his pre-flight planning and preparation for this flight so that he doesn’t miss anything. The instructor encourages Ari to adopt a Threat and Error Management (TEM) strategy to cover weather, NOTAM, fuel required, weight and balance and helicopter performance. He also reminds Ari to verify the site elevation and air temperature during the recce to assess and check that there is sufficient power to land and take off. Should something unexpected happen, the instructor recommends having an alternate airfield to land.

Departure and navigation

Confident in his flight preparation and mindful of his instructor’s advice, Ari and his friend depart for the landing site.

The weather is good although a bit windy and Ari and his friend are enjoying their flight, but Ari pays close attention to the navigation as the destination may be difficult to pinpoint.

Approach and recces

As they approach the landing site, Ari confirms that it’s the correct location and performs a power check to determine the type of approach he can make, before orbiting the landing site to carry out recces.

During the high-level recce, he identifies the main obstacles surrounding the landing site like buildings and pylons, confirms the wind direction and plans a path suitable for approach and take-off.

Next, Ari performs a low-level recce of the site to spot anything that may have been missed in his high-level recce especially hard-to-see hazards like concealed power lines and loose items on the ground that might be disturbed by the helicopter downwash and pays attention to the surface identifying any sloping ground.

With final confirmation of the wind direction, taking account of the sun position and noise abatement considerations and a recap of the threats and possible errors identified, Ari completes his pre-landing checks and lines up the helicopter for the type of approach he has chosen.  He knows that if his approach becomes unstable, or something unexpected happens, he will make a go-around.

Missed approach and go around

During the approach, Ari spots somebody walking across the landing site. He performs a go around and makes a new approach in accordance with his earlier decision to do so if anything unexpected would happen.

Landing and securing the helicopter

Ari and his friend land safely on the uncertified helipad and shut down. They secure the helicopter ensuring that unauthorised people or animals won’t be able to cause any damage to the helicopter before setting off for the conference on foot.

Key things to consider when landing on uncertified helipads

There are several things that pilots can do to safely land on an uncertified helipad, which requires thorough flight preparation, suitable recce and approach and landing procedures, and right in-flight decisions, especially during approach and landing:

  • Adopt a Threat and Error Management (TEM) strategy to cover weather, NOTAM, fuel required, weight and balance and helicopter performance. Verify the site elevation and air temperature during the recce to assess and check that there is sufficient power to land and take off. Have an alternate airfield to land, would anything unexpected happen.
  • Pay attention to the navigation as the destination may be difficult to spot.
  • As you approach the landing site, confirm that it’s the correct location and perform a power check to determine the type of approach you can make, before orbiting the landing site to carry out recces.
  • Perform a high-level recce to identify the main obstacles surrounding the landing site, confirm the wind direction and plan a path suitable for approach and take-off.
  • Perform a low-level recce of the site to spot anything you may have been missed in the high-level recce, especially hard-to-see hazards like concealed power lines and loose items on the ground that might be disturbed by the helicopter downwash.
  • Pay attention to the surface identifying any sloping ground, confirm longitudinal markers for lining up and lateral markers for letting down into the landing site.
  • With final confirmation of the wind direction and your plan, complete your pre-landing checks and recaps of the threats and possible errors identified during the recces: wind, power, obstacles, sun position, bystanders, objects that could be propelled by the downwash, noise abatement considerations, and the viability of your touchdown point and any manoeuvring you would have to do in the hover.
  • Line up the helicopter with the lead-in markers chosen for the selected approach path and set up the angle for the selected type of approach. Do not start descending until you have reached your let-down marker.
  • During the approach, continually monitor the rate of descent, airspeed, power margin and tail rotor authority while looking out for obstacles and other hazards.
  • If your approach becomes unstable, or something unexpected happens, go-around and make a new approach or divert to the alternate airfield or landing site you have planned for.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek advice from other pilots or instructors: their knowledge can be invaluable!

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Ari Vatanen for participating in this video, to Mathieu Vandenavenne, Safety for Flight, video director, and to Mike O’Donoghue, GASCo, for the technical advice used in the video and in this article.

References

Regulation (EU) N°965/2012 – Air Operations (eRules format):

NCO.OP.100 Use of aerodromes and operating sites.

NCO.OP.135 Flight preparation.

NCO.OP.206 Approach and landing conditions — helicopters.

NCO.POL.110 Performance – general.

Aircrew Regulation (EU) N° 1178/2011 (eRules format):

AMC2 FCL.210 PPL(H) – Training course

(xi) limited power and confined area operations, including selection of and operations to and from unprepared sites.

AMC1 to Appendix 3 Training courses for the issue of a CPL and an ATPL

(vi) limited power and confined area operations, including selection of and low-level operations to and from unprepared sites.

EHEST Leaflet HE3 Off Airfield Landing Site Operations.

EHEST Leaflet HE 8 The Principles of Threat and Error Management for helicopter Pilots, Instructors and Training Organisations.

 

 

 

 

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